Derek Jeter was the Yankees’ leadoff man in 137 of his 155 starts last season, but manager Joe Girardi announced today that Jeter will hit second in the Opening Day lineup, with Brett Gardner replacing him in the leadoff spot.
Anything involving Jeter inevitably leads to big headlines, but ultimately the switch is pretty meaningless. Leadoff hitters end up with slightly more plate appearances than No. 2 hitters, while No. 2 hitters end up with slightly more RBI opportunities than leadoff hitters.
Either way, both spots involve coming to the plate more often than everyone else in the lineup and setting the table for the sluggers. And while Jeter was primarily a leadoff man last season he’s actually hit second far more often throughout his career, logging 56 percent of his total plate appearances in the No. 2 spot. And his numbers are identical, with a .313 batting average and .839 OPS leading off compared to a .314 batting average and .840 OPS hitting second.
To me this move is more about Gardner getting a promotion from the bottom of the lineup to the top of the lineup following a very strong season that included a lofty .383 on-base percentage and 47 steals. If the Yankees feel like he’s capable of repeating those numbers the leadoff spot makes all kinds of sense, and since Jeter has more power than Gardner it’s also natural to bat him second.
One negative aspect of Jeter hitting second is that he’ll get more opportunities to ground into double plays after ranking fifth in the league with 22 last season despite batting at least once per game with no one on base, but Gardner tries so many steals (and is fast enough even when he doesn’t take off for second base) that the impact could be minimal.
A report from the Baltimore Sun’s Dan Connolly suggests that free agent catcher Welington Castillo currently tops the Orioles’ list of potential backstop targets for the 2017 season. With Matt Wieters on the market, the Orioles lack a suitable platoon partner for Caleb Joseph behind the dish, and Connolly adds that the club has been discussing a multi-year deal with Castillo’s representatives since the Winter Meetings.
Castillo batted .264/.322/.423 with the Diamondbacks in 2016, racking up 14 home runs and driving in a career-high 68 RBI in 457 PA. His bat provides much of his upside, and Connolly quoted an anonymous National League scout who believes that the 29-year-old’s defensive profile has fallen short of his potential in recent years.
For better or worse, both the Orioles and Castillo appear far from locking in a deal for 2017. Both the Rays and Braves have expressed interest in the veteran catcher during the past week, while the Orioles are reportedly considering Wieters, Nick Hundley and Chris Iannetta as alternatives behind the plate.
The Phillies reportedly signed veteran outfielder Daniel Nava to a minor league contract, according to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nava began the season on a one-year contract with the Angels, during which he slashed .235/.309/.303 through 136 PA in the first half of 2016. He was flipped to the Royals in late August for a player to be named later and saw the remainder of his year go down the drain on an .091 average through 12 PA in Anaheim. After getting the boot from the Angels’ 40-man roster in November, the 33-year-old outfielder elected free agency.
Nava is expected to compete for a bench role on the Phillies’ roster in the spring. As it currently stands, the club’s projected 2017 outfield features Howie Kendrick and Odubel Herrera, with precious little depth behind them. Nava’s bat is underwhelming, but at the very least he offers the Phillies a warm body in left field and a potential platoon partner for one of their younger options, a la Tyler Goeddel or Roman Quinn.